Alan Bennett is one of Yorkshire’s finest playwrights and having anything he does interpreted by the magnificent Damien Cruden was always going to be something special. Just to add to the dynamite of the production is Belt Up’s direction of “the sixth form boys”.
40 Years On is a play within a play.
It is set at Albion House School for boys on the eve of the headmaster’s retirement in 1968. ‘Speak for England, Arthur’ is a series of sketches written and performed by the headmaster in waiting Mr Franklin (Martin Barrass) parodying relevant figures and events of a bygone age, pushing the boundaries of decency just a little too far for the retiring head. The play is full of Bennett’s quick-tongued wit and eccentricity, with a delightful smattering of smutty schoolboy humour.
The play is a multi-generational story of a lost Britain and what it is to be British to a public schoolboy who became a headmaster. The wonderful Robert Pickavance portrays the general farce and cliché of the outdated headmaster with ease. It felt as though he took every member of the audience back to their own schooldays, whenever they were. The very natural rendition of Jerusalem by all within the theatre set the scene brilliantly.
The animated contribution of the Belt Up boys offer some great show stealing moments and the unaffectedness of their performance completed the dynamic.
York Theatre Royal couldn’t have delivered a more complete product. The interaction of the school boys in the foyer and the school style program of events set the ambience before even setting foot in the round. Then there is the Jam Roly Poly in the Café, the set design, delivery and costumes all playing vital roles in the overall atmosphere.
The play is on until 15 October. A treat not to be missed.